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March 10, 2009
What compelling drama, what brilliant theatre. This was a Test of West Indian nerve like no other and it so nearly became too much for them. The prospect of regaining the Wisden Trophy and winning their first series since 2004 enveloped them in a fog of uncertainly on the final day. In the end it needed the cool head of Denesh Ramdin and the lunging defence of Fidel Edwards to hold a rampant England at bay. But after waiting so long for success, all that mattered was that they didn't let it slip away.
"I'm really happy, overjoyed, and you just have to enjoy the moment," Chris Gayle said as he could finally soak up the feeling of success. "These things don't come around often and I just want to thank each and every player for their efforts and the character they have shown. I'm really happy, but not just for the team but also the people overseas. I'm sure they are jumping for joy."
For the second time in the series the West Indies lower order had to repel the visiting bowlers as James Anderson found lethal reverse swing and the spinners had nine men around the bat. The local fans found their voice, cheering every dot ball, but the glum faces of those hunched over their radios when each wicket fell spoke volumes of their greatest fears. Would old West Indies come back at the crucial moment and undo a month of hard work?
This was Test cricket at its ultimate, a timely tonic after some of the lop-sided, bat-dominated draws in recent times. It is a cliché to say that the game needed to show its best side, but how often it is true. Even if there was more than a hint of old-school West Indian panic in the final two sessions, in the bigger picture the game was better for it.
Not that Gayle will have been thinking that at the time. Surely he had to have been feeling the pressure, even as he sat their emotionless on the balcony? "I had a lot of confidence in the guys but it was pretty tense," he said. "Batting in these situations is never easy, but I was confident. We had a bit of a scare but we had capable batsman like Ramdin and we know Fidel has been in this situation before."
Gayle emerged at No. 8 with his pulled hamstring to block his way through 42 balls with the sheer determination that the series wasn't going to be wrestled away. "It was hurting, but bearable pain and as you saw I was doing a lot of stretching to try and reach the ball. But I knew I could bear it so it wasn't too much for me," he said.
He played one attacking stroke, which nearly ended up as a return catch to Monty Panesar, but largely it was the most out-of-character innings from the captain. He had put his heart and soul into winning this series - and, arguably, put his reputation on the line with some of his tactics - so knew the chance couldn't slip away. However, he couldn't see it right to the end and with 9.4 overs remaining he had to haul himself back to the dressing room and watch the tension unfold.
At times West Indies became their own worst enemy throughout the final day. It had been clear from the start of the game that the summit of their ambitions was a draw: that is a dangerous mindset to be in. They never once showed a desire to try and win this match. Two more wickets and serious questions would have had to be asked of Gayle's tactics. As it was, thanks to Ramdin and Edwards, West Indies' survival means he won't have to contemplate where it went wrong. It did came mighty close.
Gayle, though, defended the way he went about the final day. "It was nothing about being negative or anything like that. If you watch the way we have bowled in the last couple of games that's the way we have bowled. There was no plan to be negative."
Of course, none of that matters now. Instead he is the captain that has brought success back to the Caribbean and for that he can be rightly proud. It's been a long and painful road (especially painful for Gayle given the state of his hamstring) but after such a drought success will feel even sweeter. No wonder they wanted it so badly, yet that almost proved their downfall; old demons are easily awoken when momentous occasions draw near.
Even the mainstays of the batting - Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul - couldn't bail them out on this occasion. However, the key thing about this team is each time they have been in trouble somebody has come to the rescue. For three Tests in a row they have responded to totals over 500 and saved the matches.
"Sarwan has been consistent throughout the series. He didn't get many runs in New Zealand but he came here and stepped up to the plate and it was a really big effort from him," Gayle said. "Also, Ramdin and Brendan Nash getting their first Test hundreds was crucial and Chanderpaul has been as consistent as ever. We have also got a few young players in the team and hopefully they can follow suit."
After years in the doldrums West Indies cricket can at last look forward to the future with some optimism. The final hours put their players and fans through an emotional rollercoaster, but after the wait they've had for success they probably didn't expect anything less.
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